The call that broke the camel's back

In February, according to police in Fayetteville, Ga., after a youth basketball game (7- and 8-year-olds) that featured much bickering by a coach over referee Oliver Lewis Wood's "bad calls," the referee pulled out a knife and stabbed the coach. The referee, who by day is a Baptist minister, was arrested; the coach, who by day is a county marshal, needed 17 stitches.

Holding fast

In February, the Court of Appeal in Vancouver, British Columbia, began considering Doug Stead's challenge to his 1996 $75 (U.S.) speeding ticket, which has so far cost Stead about $75,000 (U.S.) in lawyers' fees to make his point that the province's system of photographing speeders' cars is unfair. Stead, who admits he was speeding, told reporters that his wife does not agree that this is a good way to spend the household budget but that, "If I let it go, I wouldn't feel good."

Weight watchers

"The final taboo" and "a second coming out" are what 42-year-old New York City filmmaker John Outcalt calls the Gainers and Encouragers gay subculture of men who (the gainers) try to transform their bodies by eating all the food they can or who (the encouragers) get a sexual thrill out of enabling the gainers. The of-average-weight Outcalt says (in a December issue of Time Out New York) he's a "chub chaser" who organizes conventions (Encouragecons) and who says he likes watching bodies "going from point A to point B, and whether it's gaining hair, getting larger, or getting fat, I find it sexy and exciting."

Sorry state of affairs

The Apology and Gift Center ("We say sorry for you"), which opened in Septem-ber in the port city of Tianjin, China, is thriving because so many Chinese are reluctant to endure the loss of face involved in a personal apology. A surrogate's in-person delivery costs about $2.50, but misbehavers can also call in their mea culpas on the popular program, "Apologize in Public Tonight" at 10 p.m. on Beijing People's Radio, 828 on the AM dial.

Death on the installment plan

Two men who were arrested after having bragged in bars that they had shot Paul Higgs to death were released from jail in Doniphan, Mo., in December when Higgs was found in Arkansas, unscathed. And Neal Beaton Jr. was reported dead in Anchorage, Alaska, in January, but after his sister started on funeral arrangements, Beaton turned up alive; a look-alike dead man had been carrying Beaton's wallet. And a January suicide-attempting woman in a bathtub was declared dead and spent three hours in a funeral home body bag before her slight movements were detected by a worker (Ashland, Mass.).

Whipped into shape

A court disbelieved a pregnant 17-year-old girl's claim of rape but still reduced her sentence for having sex from 180 lashes to 100 -- and later restored her honor, after the man proposed marriage (Zam-fara, Nigeria, January). And education officials in Penang, Malaysia, established a new student code: one lash for each 10 demerits, for gambling, cussing, smoking, etc.; 30 demerits for hitting a teacher (January). And a man was sentenced to 20 lashes for using a cell phone on an airplane (Tabuk, Saudi Arabia, November). And a morgue attendant was sentenced to death for murder and rape, but a court decreed that first he would be given 80 lashings for drinking alcohol (Sana, Yemen, November).

Dark night of the soul

Among the reactions to the Jan. 9 lunar eclipse: Muslims in the Nigerian cities of Maiduguri and Barma battled police and burned down at least 40 hotels and bars because they blamed the eclipse on the immorality occurring inside.

Below beak performance

A drop in the vulture population around Bombay, India, has forced the 50,000-strong Zoroastrian community of Parsees to abandon its preferred "sky burials" (leaving corpses on high platforms to be devoured by the birds) in favor of using solar panels to decompose the bodies within five or six days. Disease and pesticides have reduced the number of vultures by 90 percent, according to a December South China Morning Post dispatch.

A sweet deal

Police in Danville, Ky., reported that on Jan. 28 a Dairy Queen customer successfully passed a piece of make-believe U.S. currency in the denomination of $200 and featuring a center picture of George W. Bush. The customer offered the bill to pay a food charge of $2.12, and the DQ employee, luckily unnamed, handed her $197.88 in change. The Secret Service said it would not file counterfeiting charges because the bill was so crude that it would be difficult to prove to a jury that it could be confused with real currency.

Least justifiable homicides

Latest reasons given: Killed her parents because they wouldn't let her go to a dance (Tyler, Texas, sentenced in Septem-ber). Did not want to leave a witness to the theft of $5 (Hillsboro, Ill., December). Insisted he was a better professional floor-tiler than the victim (Gaithersburg, Md., January). Victim ate his last piece of toast (Evansville, Ind., January).

King-size pain

Last month San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown got a restraining order against an Elvis impersonator who had been pestering him for a meeting to discuss how to rid the city of panhandlers and liberals.

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